Perhaps, like me, you “aahed” when you first saw that recent photo of an Australian kangaroo holding up the head of its mate, with their baby standing close by. The caption told of the tender final moment as the father helped the mother have one last look at their offspring before dying.
Not so much, it turns out. Apparently the male kangaroo was less a gentle caregiver than a predator. One veterinarian said that the male was actually trying to mate, and may even have caused the death of the female in the process.
Rather spoils the Kodak moment, doesn’t it?
A photograph can be a powerful thing, but it’s only a single moment in time. It contains no before or after by which to position it. And, as I have observed before, without context we may not be able to truly understand the content.
The place from which we view things affects how we interpret them. For example, pictures of public disorder are often taken from behind the relative safety of police or military lines—understandably so. But that can subtly frame those facing us as the aggressors, whether they are or not.
The potential for misinterpretation has always been part of the news business. But this danger has been amplified by social media because of the way it reduces the quantity of time and attention we focus on anything. We are deceived into thinking we can just glance at something and instantly understand what we are seeing.
It’s worth remembering the next time an image or a short sentence captures our imagination. Indeed, that very phrase should be a heads-up: we may be imagining we see something that is not really there.
Proverbs 25:8 warns about the danger of rushing to judgment: “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?”
A caution worth bearing in mind. After all, a kangaroo court involves reaching a verdict based on sketchy, incomplete evidence.